Category: Uncategorized

The Ol’ Patriotic One Two

(Spoilers for this week’s release of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1 to follow.)

It’s been a big month for Captain America. Steve Rogers, the kid from Brooklyn, had his third movie premiere earlier this month to great reviews and a billion dollar box office. In a smart, well-planned move, Marvel Comics has returned Steve Rogers to being Captain America just in time, granting him his own title, alongside Sam Wilson, who will also continue to bear the mantle. In anticipation of the many curious folks walking out of Captain America: Civil War and into a comic shop, looking for a good, accessible story about the titular hero, Marvel has crafted exactly that, giving us a Steve Rogers in his prime, wearing the red, white and blue, slinging his shield, and, of course, as years of comics history dictates, being an active sleeper agent of HYDRA, Marvel’s defacto Nazi stand-ins.

Wait. What?

Yes. Marvel is balancing their signature, flagship hero’s return to prominence on the ever-so-well thought out idea of “What if the good guy was really a BAD GUY all along?” To clarify things (because this is comics, after all), editor Tom Brevoort and writer Nick Spencer have doubled down on the fact that this is THE Steve Rogers–the original, the one true, accept no clones, alternate universe versions, or LMDs (Life Model Decoys–it’s a thing). In a USA Today interview, Brevoort essentially takes the tack of “all press is good press,” as he typically has in the past.

If the idea of Captain America, the symbol of freedom, being a villain–and worse, an actual Nazi–strikes you as wrong, well, congratulations, you probably have at least some sense. To make matters worse, this is the second time in two days that Captain America has been at the forefront of the collective consciousness–yesterday saw the rise of the hashtag #GiveCapABoyfriend on Twitter. The hashtag itself was a multifaceted thing; it spun out of a prior hashtag regarding the Frozen heroine called #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, and they both have the same aim; openly queer characters at the forefront of popular culture.

This was, unsurprisingly, quite the contentious subject. There was a lot of back-and-forth over the validity of the idea in the first place, and further skepticism and questioning over the motivations behind it. Comics colorist Nathan Fairbairn opined on the subject yesterday, good-naturedly asserting that Captain America is established as straight, and that queer rep IS a problem, but that that problem can easily be addressed by making Falcon, War Machine, or Bucky gay instead. After that good-natured assertion, he went on to question the legitimacy of reasoning going into the hashtag, and telling those who supported it to go fuck themselves, if they didn’t have the reasons he thought they should.

(There is not a ninth tweet that I can see.)

Several folks responded; making well-reasoned points, and Mr. Fairbairn doubled down on the idea of “Why Cap?”

Now, to be fair, he did argue his points well (click through any of those tweets to get an idea of the response; he had to conduct himself on multiple fronts at once, and he relented on several points), but the answer to the question he’s raising is multi-part.

First: Captain America just had a movie release bearing his name in large block letters only a few weeks ago. He is at the forefront of the public consciousness, and as much as Mr. Fairbairn may think so, it’s not disingenuous in the slightest for him to be the subject, just like it wouldn’t be disingenuous for the same to be true of Iron Man, were one of his movies freshly released. It’s not disingenuous to recontextualize something currently in the public eye as a means of generating discussion–we do that every day.

Second: More importantly, Captain America is the flagship character at Marvel Comics, and in its movies. In this most recent movie, he’s the main character. We don’t need a queer Bucky or Sam Wilson–we don’t need another queer sidekick or also ran. We need a queer LEAD. Since January, in the latter half of this year’s TV viewing season, sixteen lesbian or bisexual women were killed on screen. Sixteen–most of those within a two- or three-week period, and again, just from the latter half of the season. So, why Cap? Because he’s at the forefront. Because we have a reasonable expectation that he’ll survive the story. Sidekicks have a limited lifespan–more so if they’re queer, and even more than that if they’re queer POC.

Third: We need a queer lead in a story that is not explicitly about queerness. Those stories are absolutely necessary and fantastic, but the thing about them is this: Most straight people don’t watch them. Most straight people don’t care about them. We need action stories and thrillers and all sorts of stories with queer leads because we need to see that status normalized on the screen. To put it in perspective, let’s revisit that fourth tweet in Mr. Fairbairn’s diatribe there. “Captain America in the films is clearly straight. That’s been established in several films by now.” Oh, it has? We’ve seen him share a romance with Peggy Carter, and then fumble awkwardly with every other woman he’s encountered since–including a kiss with Peggy’s own niece that may just take the award for the least charismatic kiss committed to film this year.

No, what Mr. Fairbairn is putting forth is heteronormativity. We’ve only seen Cap be interested in girls, so obviously he’s only straight, right? Straight people can’t have boyfriends, so obviously the entire movement’s a wash! Except, oh wait. People can be bisexual. People can even not realize they’re queer until well into their adult life, and it’s especially likely that might be true if the person in question is so busy jumping from one combat zone to the next that he never has time to stop and take stock of his life.

Here’s where it gets personal, and I expound on something that I’ve only discussed with a few people in my life: Hi. I’m queer. I only figured it out recently–so recently that I’m still processing it and trying to undo some really screwed up mindsets. So recently that I still haven’t even figured out the right words to define it beyond simply, “queer.”  So when I put forth the idea that Captain America can and should have a male love interest, I’m putting forth the idea that I would like to see someone who represents, in broad strokes, the exact thing I have spent the last several months of my life going through.

From a straight point of view, does the idea seem desperate? Does it seem silly, that we’re pushing so hard for something to be attached to a lead character? Maybe. But, seriously, name one major queer lead in superhero fiction. Name one in a police procedural. Name one in anything that’s not explicitly a story about being queer.

Fourth (that’s right, I still have more points): Why Cap? Why not a different lead, like Iron Man? Mr. Fairbairn, Tony Stark is not Captain America. Tony Stark is not a representative of the very idea of Freedom. Tony Stark does not explicitly represent the ideals that the United States were founded on. Tony Stark does not definitively stand for the marginalized in the way that Steve Rogers does. That is the explicit point of Steve Rogers–he was created by two Jews during World War II to fight Nazis. He is explicitly the Nazi Party’s own Aryan ideals turned against against them; a Caucasian, blonde-haired, blue-eyed defender of the very people they were attempting to exterminate. So why Cap? Because standing for the marginalized is his role in fiction.

That fourth point brings us full circle to today’s news, and the idea that Captain America is now, and has always been, a sleeper agent of Hydra. Now, it’s not Marvel’s fault that this news is hitting today; comics take time to write, to make, to print, and to ship, and this release date has been in the cards for them for months now. There was no way that Marvel could have anticipated the rise of yesterday’s discussion, and so they can’t be held accountable in that capacity. However.

One day after the call for queer rep on the part of the character who is meant to represent the marginalized, Marvel announced that Captain America is, and has been, a secret Nazi all along. He is a member of an organization whose real-world, nonfiction counterpart actively persecuted gays and lesbians over the course of its campaign during World War II. Marvel literally presented a Captain America who is the antithetical opposite of the thing that was being asked for, and they did it for shock value.

The standard arguments are already cropping up: “Wait until the story’s finished!” “It’s just comics, it’ll change back, it doesn’t matter!” We’re told, in so many words, to have faith, that everything will turn out okay. While that might be true, that’s not really the issue here. People are not upset because this change is permanent; we know that it will not be. People are upset because for something that we know is not permanent, such a subversion is indicative of a shocking lack of awareness and sensitivity for its real-world ramifications. It undermines the moral compass on which the character is built. It undermines the moral compass of the entire franchise built on top of that. It insults the history and the legacy of his creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. It is, as Brevoort says in his interview, a “slap in the face.” When Brevoort says that, he seems to forget what a slap in the face is, and what it represents: An assault.

We get enough of that.

 

Adventure Log 1: Job Faire

abyssal leap

Hammersgaard is a bustling city on the outskirts of Coralym, its eastward walls standing against the Ruined Frontier, its southern along the banks of the Orga River. Due to its rural location, Hammersgaard is a chaotic, unruly town, full of thieves, murderers, and all sorts of sinners and criminals alike. Thanks to its river proximity, Hammersgaard does a fair bit of business as a port town, but that’s nothing compared to its bustling economy of adventuring companies exploring the Ruined Frontier.

These companies and the business they practice is highly organized (if certainly corrupt) by a system enforced by the High Justices of the town. Prospective jobs are reported, catalogued, and divided by type, then dispersed according to a bidding system—companies will make competing bids for labor/materials/timeframe, and the High Justices will award each job accordingly.

Today, as it happens, the auction is almost over. There is only one job remaining, and four parties left still bidding–first, yourselves, then: a trio of nearly silent elves dressed in black leather armor, their chests stamped with red handprints; a group of noblewomen to one side, dressed in their finest and sniffing haughtily at the others, and finally, perhaps the oddest group of all; a foursome of monstrous humanoids led by a bespectacled owlbear who seems more at home in an accounting office than where his type might normally look.

As the High Justice overseeing the auction finishes his notations for the last auction and returns to the podium, the other groups perk up. You’re able to recognize this man–High Justice Reknar. His irritability and disdain for the adventuring line of work is notable, but so is his fairness. He looks out over the remaining groups, then speaks.

“The last contract is thus: A tribe of goblins has set up a base in the Frontier. Scouts pinpoint their location as a ruined temple,  but their numbers are above average, as is their level of aggression. They’ve been raiding farms just outside the city walls. For extermination, the bidding will start at one thousand gold.”

The owlbear immediately lifts a clawed appendage. “Hrmhrm…Nine hundred and fifty.”

Hurt So Good: The Best Punisher Book You Never Read

This week marked the conclusion of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s Daredevil run, which has been beautiful, glorious, and heartbreaking. Brett White over at CBR penned a piece about it that truly encapsulates the level of craft on display through the entirety of that book. He’s done a fantastic job of saying exactly what I think about Daredevil, so I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to talk about another book that started at the same time: The criminally slept-on Punisher book, by Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto. Today, we’re going to talk about the first issue of that book.

Punisher#1

Cover art for The Punisher (Vol. 9) #1, by Bryan Hitch

Just about everyone is familiar with the Punisher these days. He’s had three(!) feature films and fifteen different solo books, each of those iterations–film and comics both–a differing take on the character. If that seems excessive, well, it is, but consider: in itself, it’s a statement on the character, the way that he works. Frank Castle as a character is a good idea, pure and simple. He’s vengeance, revenge. He’s the hurt we all feel, and that we want others to understand. He’s cathartic, relentless justice in primal terms.

He is not good, though. He’s not a role model. He is violent, uncompromising. He has no faith in man to improve, to do or be better. There is a cynicism to him that feels almost infectious; a disease that has taken root, caused by trauma and loss. If the Hulk as a character is a demonstration of the dangers of uncontrollable rage, then Punisher is a lesson on how much more dangerous, how much more toxic rage can be when channeled–both to the carrier and its victims. Rage infects, it destroys. It’s not a thing that lasts; when it has no target, it only eats itself.

Frankly, that’s why the Punisher has had so many series–as good a concept as he is, his books don’t last because sustaining that rage over a prolonged period of time is difficult, if not impossible[1]. Protracted rage gives way to exhaustion. In a comic book, that’s a death knell. So, multiple volumes, with low issue runs. Short, staccato bursts. Which brings me to what is easily the best of those many volumes–Punisher Volume 9, by the aforementioned Rucka and Checchetto.

From the very start of their run, Frank Castle is a ghost in his own book. He barely says a thing throughout the first issue; in fact, he doesn’t appear in the book at all until page thirteen. When he is finally present, the ghost analogy holds; he haunts the shadows and the edges–we don’t see his face until further on, on page twenty.

Instead, the story is about a Marine named Rachel Alves. It opens on the day of her wedding, in a scene that feels like a love letter to Kill Bill, albeit filtered through a very different lens. For Rachel, unlike The Bride, the ceremony is complete, and the reception has begun. During the party, a fleeing man bursts in through the doors, chased by others. All of them are heavily armed. The men doing the chasing open fire; they kill their target, then, presumably to silence witnesses, proceed to murder the guests in attendance, not to mention the wedding party itself. The bloodstain on Mrs. Alve’s dress blossoms like a flower; we see her fall. There is an exceptional cruelty, an unnecessary act that cements the evil of these men; they hold the bride and groom, make them face each other as they’re murdered. Rachel is the last to be shot, and the final panel of the scene has her laying next to her already deceased husband, staring up at the camera. It’s grisly and disturbing, in exactly the way a crime story is meant to be. You cannot help but feel the tragedy of the moment, the quickness with which the joy of the day turns to heartbreak. There’s a caption in that same panel; one of the officers investigating the scene later informs us that Rachel does not die. She must bear the trauma of what’s been done to her, and to the people around her.

There are things to be said about the nature of violence toward women and way it’s used as a storytelling device; those things are for another piece (which I certainly will write). For this article and this story, it’s enough to describe these events and understand that they are crucial, pivotal to this story in a way that this type of violence often is not. This story is about pain. It’s about trauma, how it affects us, how we deal with it, and how much harder that is without a support network. It’s a story, despite the title of the book, about Rachel Alves.

From Punisher (Vol. 9) #2. Art by Marco Checchetto.

From Punisher (Vol. 9) #2. Art by Marco Checchetto.

Two policemen are introduced; Detectives Clemons and Bolt. They are our viewpoint for this arc of the story; they are the ones detached from the immediate action, viewing it analytically. They are there with a job to do. When we’re finally introduced to the titular character, it’s through a text message; he’s contacting Bolt, in search of information for his war on organized crime. His specific target is The Exchange; we find out that they’re behind the massacre at the reception. This information is not especially relevant to the Punisher; it’s another crime, another atrocity to him, something that justifies–or rather, necessitates–his actions. He stages a hit on a nightclub populated with criminals that is an interesting inversion to the first few pages; like the Exchange, the Punisher leaves alive only one individual. Unlike that organization, however, his choice is deliberate. It’s then that we see his face–he holds a gun to the man’s head, then smiles and walks away. His choice is not immediately explained.

Instead, his relationship with Detective Bolt is established; while doing routine surveillance of a suspected mobster, Bolt and his then-partner are caught unprepared by a meet that goes sideways. Being in public, there is also a class of school students present. As Bolt is only just beginning to react, the Punisher is there, holding him quiet. The Punisher pulls a fire alarm, alerting the class and getting them out of the way just in time, as a firefight begins. When his shooting hand is wounded, he loses his gun, and takes Bolt’s, finishing the job. Later, Bolt, unwilling to admit that the Punisher had taken his weapon and saved those children, takes the credit for both the fire alarm and the expert shooting. He’s given a promotion; the Punisher begins using him for information.

It’s only during this event that we finally see the Punisher in full; firing the shots that Bolt takes credit for. He’s a very different creature than the cover art shows us; much of that is due to the difference between the artists. Hitch is a much more mainstream type of penciller; his lines are clean and neat, and he draws the Punisher on the cover as we expect to see him; former military, close cropped hair, body armor, and a cold, grimacing look. When Checchetto’s Punisher first appears, it’s something else entirely.

ChecchettoPunisher

From Punisher (Vol. 9) #1. Art by Marco Checchetto.

His hair is loose, he hasn’t shaved in days. Instead of armor with a neatly designed skull emblem, he wears a shirt with an impressionistic feel; this skull is bleeding its color down the front of his chest. His coat flows and moves around him; we can see the injury in his primary hand, but he’s just as good firing with his left. That grimace is gone; his face bears the years of pain, but the knit brow is focus, the lines of his mouth are utterly impassive. It’s almost a worse kind of coldness; these men are already dead to him. Marco Checchetto draws the Punisher as a man riding his rage to the edge of his own ability to function. He is barely holding it together; not just in this moment, but as a human being. Fortunately, because this is a Greg Rucka book, everything will be okay and Frank Castle will finally find peahahahaHAHAHAHA.

No. This is a story about pain. One you should absolutely start reading.

[1]The two aberrations are the series which ran through the late 80s and early 90s. Consider that these series ran in the heyday of Marvel’s guns-and-pouches aesthetic, and it’s easy to see why they maintained as long as they did.

The Punisher (Vol. 9) is available in its entirety on Comixology, or you can read it on Marvel’s Digital Unlimited service.

 

Things I’m Consuming

consume

Presented in no specific order:

Fresh off of my finishing Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, I was eager for another book in the same sort of vein. It’s no secret that I like comics, but what fascinates me as much as comics themselves is the industry behind it. There’s absolutely so much there, and Morrison provides a perspective that Howe’s book didn’t; he’s worked for both companies, and he’s not from New York, so he hasn’t been a part of that very American identity that the Big Two both inhabit. As part of the British Invasion (lord, how I hate that term) of comics in the 80s, he’s also had a very singular career arc, doing as many offbeat, weird projects as he has mainstream cape books.

Come As You Are has nothing to do with Nirvana. It does, however, have a lot to do with the science of sex, and the way we perceive and talk about it. It’s thoughtful, accessible, and incredibly inclusive, and fantastic at enabling folks to re-examine the ways that they approach sex, right up to dismissing the myth that is the sex drive.

Daedalic had a sale this past weekend, so I took advantage of it to pick up Deponia for cheap–$6.50, all told. The Complete Journey contains the entire trilogy, as well as director’s commentary and what apparently is an improved inventory mechanic. I say ‘apparently,’ because I never played the original games, so I have no comparison point. At any rate, I do find the inventory intuitive and easy to use. The game itself is a point-and-click adventure that plays in the style of old LucasArts games–Sam & Max, etc. It’s not as funny as those–there’s a joke about a girl’s weight in the second chapter that just falls entirely flat–but it’s challenging in the way that I like games to be. Which is to say, there’s a puzzle to solve, rather than having calculate my jumps at a geometric level.

I really, really wanted to like this game. I waited the month or so for it to make it out on Android, and I devoted an entire weekend to it, even! But…I don’t. It’s boring, and it punishes you for not playing, which is perhaps the biggest cardinal sin I can think of when it comes to a game. It might just be me personally, but I really felt a sense of anxiety in the way the game wants your constant attention, and it just made the whole experience unpleasant for me. I’ll happily wait for Fallout 4 instead, where the world doesn’t keep wanting things when I’ve saved and exited.

Look, I know a lot about the X-Men. My first comic was an X-Men book (Uncanny #173, which is–incidentally–the best, and I will fight you if you say otherwise), and from that moment, I dived wholeheartedly into that world, learning everything I could. I’ve read just about every issue from the first few decades, and even that level of commitment does not compare to the talents of Rachel and Miles. Starting from the very first issue, they take an indepth look at the entire history of the X-Men, averaging about four to five issues per episode. They discuss the events of each issue in detail, but more than that, they provide important context by filtering those issues both through the events of their time and through a more modern lens. On top of that, I’m not a big podcast guy, but Rachel and Miles trump my chief complaint there, as well; by recording in an actual studio, with a producer, they have a level of precision, conciseness, and overall audio quality that very few other podcasts are able to match.

Look, you probably know about Welcome to Night Vale. It’s the most popular podcast on iTunes. It’s also the only other podcast that gets by my general distaste, by being excellently recorded and produced. If you actually don’t know, it tells the story of a fictional town known as Night Vale, as reported through a local community radio host named Cecil Palmer. It’s well-written, adventurous, spooky, and absurd, and it’s probably one of my favorite things to be made in the last decade. Really–check it out.